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Covid news summary: 25 January 2022

A medical worker prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster to be given to children 12-15 years old at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut.

Covid-19 Omicron variant live updates

Covid-19 Omicron variant headlines

- Pfizer and BionTech announce trial of Omicron-specific vaccine

- CDC study suggests covid less severe with Omicron

- US Labor Dept withdraws vaccine requirement for large employers

- Over 1m children diagnosed with covid-19 in single week, says American Academy of Pediatrics

- Japan to widen curbs as Omicron cases surge

- mRNA covid-19 booster shots reduce hospitalisation, shows CDC study

- Germany hopes 3.8m Novovax shots will increase vaccine uptake

General news and information

- Free at-home tests can be ordered on US government website covidtests.gov 

- Americans can also request free covid-19 tests on hotline 1-800-232-0233

- How long should you wait after an infection with Omicron before getting a covid-19 booster vaccine?

- Experts suggest there may be an increased risk of long covid from the Omicron variant

Supreme Court rules against vaccine mandates for workplaces with over 100 employees

- Why do I have armpit pain after receiving the covid-19 vaccine?

Key websites:

-  World Health Organisation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Lancet

Further covid-related reading:

Which countries have had no coronavirus cases?

Since the start of the covid-19 pandemic at the end of 2019, over two years ago, we have seen well over 300 million cases recorded. But have any nations avoided it?

AS USA's Calum Roche takes a look


Over 1m child cases of covid-19 in single week - American Academy of Pediatrics

More than one million children in the United States were diagnosed with covid-19 during the week ending 20 January, a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed on Tuesday.

Almost 1,151,000 new cases of covid-19 were reported among children during the seven-day period, the AAP said - a 17% increase on the 981,000 child cases reported in the previous week.

"As we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, cases of covid-19 among children and adolescents are the highest they have ever been. These numbers are staggering,” said AAP president Dr Moira Szilagyi.

Read the American Academy of Pediatrics' report

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has edge over Pfizer's - study

An investigation in Qatar which compared Moderna and Pfizer vaccines showed that while they use the same mRNA technology, they differ slightly.

Read more


Covid less severe with Omicron than Delta, US study suggests

The Omicron variant appears to result in less severe covid-19 than seen during previous periods of high coronavirus transmission including the Delta wave, with shorter hospital stays, less need for intensive care and fewer deaths, according to a new US study.

However, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to record numbers of infections and hospitalizations, straining the US healthcare system.

Despite the steep spike in covid cases, the percentage of hospitalized patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) during the current Omicron wave was about 29% lower than during last winter's surge and some 26% lower than during the Delta wave, the study published on Tuesday in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.

The lower covid-19 disease severity during the Omicron period is likely related to higher vaccination coverage, booster use among those eligible for the extra shots, as well as prior infections providing some immune protection, the study said.

Deaths in the period from 19 December to 15 January, when Omicron infections were at a peak, averaged nine per 1,000 covid cases, compared to 16 per 1,000 in the previous winter peak and 13 during the Delta wave, the study showed.

The findings were consistent with previous data analyses from South Africa, England and Scotland, where infections from Omicron peaked earlier than in the United States, the CDC said.


Is armpit pain after the covid vaccine or booster shot a normal symptom?

Armpit pain is a recognised side effect of the Moderna and Pfizer -BioNTech covid vaccines - the ones that use mRNA (messenger RNA) technology. While it can be painful it is usually entirely normal and generally does not require medical intervention.

Read more


Spain extend period between covid-19 infection and booster jab to 5 months

Spain's Public Health Authority recommend prolonging the period between covid-19 infection and receiving the third dose of the vaccine, the booster, to five months. Previously, the recommended period between getting the booster jab after infection was just four weeks - against the advice of immunologists and vaccine experts:

For children aged five to 11 who contract coronavirus before receiving the first dosis, will be given just one vaccine shot, eight weeks after infection.

Also on Tuesday, Spain recorded 382 covid-related deaths, a record during the sixth wave, and 114,877 new coronavirus cases.


US Labor Dept withdrawing covid-19 vaccine rule for large employers

The US Department of Labor said on Tuesday it will withdraw its covid-19 vaccine-and-testing requirement for large US employers after the US Supreme Court blocked the rule, ending a controversial bid to increase vaccination rates.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in the federal register that while it was withdrawing the emergency temporary standard, the rule would remain as a proposal for a permanent requirement. "OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by covid-19 in the workplace," the notice said.

Covid-19 has killed more than 850,000 in the United States and the outbreak continues to weigh on the country's economy. President Joe Biden unveiled in September several regulations aimed at increasing the US adult vaccination rate, which currently stands at about 74% - among the lowest for developed nations. The rules sparked legal challenges by conservative organizations, Republicans and some business groups.

The OSHA mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees was blocked by the Supreme Court earlier this month, although at the same time the court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for workers in healthcare facilities. A third major vaccine rule from the Biden administration required federal government contractors to get their employees vaccinated. That was blocked by a federal judge in December and last week a US judge blocked a vaccine requirement for federal employees.

While courts have generally found the administration lacked the authority to require vaccination, mandates imposed by businesses, states and local governments have been upheld.


Covid-19 cases and deaths up in the UK

The UK Health Security Agency reported 94,326 covid-19 cases and 439 deaths from the virus on Tuesday. That represents a rise on Monday's data - which reported 88,447 new covid-19 cases and 56 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.




Long covid - 'Antibody signature' for high-risk patients identified

Medical researchers have discovered an “antibody signature” that can help identify those who might be at greater risk of developing 'long covid' - a long-term condition where symptoms can persists for months or even years. Those who developed long covid tended to have low levels of vital antibodies IgM and IgG3, the Guardian reports.

Read more here

Is the Omicron variant more dangerous for the unvaccinated?

Despite covid-19 remaining a "dangerous virus," the World Health Organization (WHO) says the Omicron variant is not as severe as previous iterations of the virus. The new variant has refocused the drive for vaccination and although it appears to be less severe than previous variants, nothing can be ruled out.

Read more:


Pfizer compares tweaked vaccines designed to target Omicron

Pfizer has begun a clinical study comparing its original covid-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious Omicron variant. The study will evaluate up to 1,420 participants across the three cohorts examining different regimens of the current Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine or an Omicron-based vaccine. The study will draw upon some participants from the companies’ phase III covid-19 booster study and is part of their ongoing efforts to address Omicron and determine the potential need for variant-based vaccines.

Covid-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match Omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.



Pfizer and BioNTech launch trial of Omicron-targeted vaccine

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said on Tuesday they started a clinical trial to test a new version of their vaccine specifically designed to target the covid-19 Omicron variant, which has eluded some of the protection provided by the original two-dose vaccine regimen.

The companies plan to test the immune response generated by the Omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.

They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the Omicron-based vaccine in people who received their third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.

The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial.

"While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future," Pfizer's head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.

Pfizer has said that a two-dose regimen of the original vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection from the Omicron variant, and that protection against hospitalizations and deaths may be waning.

Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has provided 90% protection against hospitalization due to covid-19.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic


Germany to receive 3.8m doses of Novavax's new vaccine

Germany expects to receive 3.8 million doses of Novavax's newly approved covid-19 vaccine Nuvaxovid by March 20, the health ministry said on Tuesday, as the government looks to persuade unvaccinated Germans to get a shot.

Germany will receive 1.4 million doses in the week of Feb. 21 and should receive the rest of the 3.8 million doses in the subsequent few weeks.

Novavax is expected to deliver 34 million doses to Germany this year. The shipment is a part of the US drugmaker's deal to supply up to 200 million doses to the European Union's 27 member states.

Novavax's protein-based vaccine, which was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in December, uses alternative technology to the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, , Moderna, AstraZeneca and J&J.

This could convince reluctant Germans, sceptical about the novel mRNA technology and its long-term effects, to take Novavax's more traditional vaccine and boost Germany's vaccination rate, which is lower than other western European countries.



Japan infections top 60,000 for first time

Japan's daily count of new covid-19 infections surpassed 60,000 for the first time on Tuesday, broadcaster FNN said.

The government is poised to expand infection control measures to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.


Russia cases hit record high for fifth day running

Russia reported a record number of covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday as the Omicron variant of the virus spread across the country, the government coronavirus task force said.

New daily cases jumped to 67,809, from 65,109 a day earlier. The task force also reported 681 deaths.


When will the pandemic become endemic?

Experts are suggesting the rapid spread of the Omicron variant will eventually lead to the end of the pandemic in its current guise with the virus becoming endemic, much like the common flu. Some countries are already lifting travel restrictions and preparing to live with coronavirus rather than fighting to control its spread.


Pandemic entering "new phase"

New York Times - The pandemic is entering a "new phase". The rapid spread of the Omicron variant offers "plausible hope" for a return to normalcy in the months ahead, according to the WHO.


WHO head says 'dangerous' to assume pandemic is nearing end

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday it would be dangerous to assume that the highly transmissable Omicron was the last variant to emerge and that the world was in the 'end game' of the pandemic.

However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was possible this year to exit the acute phase of the pandemic where covid-19 constitutes a global health emergency if strategies and tools such as testing and vaccines are used in a comprehensive way.

Speaking at the opening of Executive Board meeting, Tedros said since Omicron was first identified a little over nine weeks ago, more than 80 million cases had been reported to the U.N. agency, more than were reported in the whole of 2020.

"Conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge," he added.


Japan set to widen covid-19 curbs

Japan on Monday prepared to double the number of regions enacting shortened operating hours for restaurants and other infection curbs to contain a record surge in covid-19 cases.

The central government has received requests for the so-called quasi-emergency measures from another 18 prefectures, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

The measures allow regional governors to order curbs on mobility and business, such as making restaurants and bars close early and restricting alcohol sales.

Japan has declared various levels of emergency multiple times during the two-year pandemic. A full state of emergency might involve closures of venues serving alcohol, attendance restrictions at sporting and cultural events and fines for non-compliant businesses.

Japan recorded more than 54,000 new infections on Saturday, the highest ever, driven by the infectious Omicron variant.

Does Omicron affect your lungs?

A number of academic studies into the highly contagious Omicron variant of covid-19 have suggested that it attacks the human body in a different way to its predecessors.

Read more


People queue up at a mass testing site in Beijing, China, on Monday. While China has mostly contained the spread of covid-19 during the pandemic, and even though cases remain relatively low, recent outbreaks of the virus, including the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant, have prompted the government to lock down people in various major cities and to reinforce stricter health measures.

Mask mandates, mass testing, immunization boosters, quarantines, some travel restrictions and bans, and lockdowns have become the norm as China continues to maintain its zero-covid policy. China's capital city has been put on high alert as it prepares to host the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which open on 4 February.

(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)


CDC adds more countries to its 'very high'-risk list

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added 15 more countries to its level-four list of ‘very high’-risk travel destinations.

Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Kuwait, Mongolia, Niger, Peru, Romania, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates are the latest nations to be included on the list, which now has 115 countries on it.

The CDC considers a country as very high-risk if it has an incidence rate of over 500 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 28 days.

In its guidance, the CDC says of level-four countries: “Avoid travel to these destinations. If you must travel to these destinations, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel.”


40% of US population up to date on covid-19 vaccination - CNN

According to a CNN analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data on vaccinations in the US, around 40% of the country’s population can be considered “up to date” on vaccination against covid-19.

CNN offers the following explanation of “up to date”, provided by the US’ top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, in an interview with the media outlet last week: “If I was not vaccinated at all and I got vaccinated tomorrow, two weeks to a month from now, I would be at my optimal degree of protection, and that would be ‘fully vaccinated'. However, five months later, if I wanted to be up to date, to be optimally vaccinated, I’d want to get the booster.”

Those who are up to date therefore include: people who have had their full initial vaccine dose plus a booster; people who have had the first of two initial vaccine doses and aren’t eligible for their second dose yet; people aged 12 and over who have had their full initial vaccine dose but aren’t yet eligible for a booster; children aged five to 11 who have had their full initial dose but can’t be boosted as this hasn’t been authorised for their age group.

These groups add up to a total of 130 million people, CNN says, per CDC data.

What do covid rapid home tests measure and what does a faint line mean?

John Hopkins University covid tracker is currently reporting over 18 million new covid cases in the past 28 days, as the US suffers under the wave of the highly infections omicron variant. Given the current levels of infection more and more Americans are turning to rapid home tests to self-test and confirm their covid status.

Read more


Hello and welcome to AS USA's dedicated covid-19 live feed on Monday 24 January 2022, as we bring you all the latest on the Omicron variant and the coronavirus situation in the United States and around the world.

We'll keep you up to date on vaccines, mandates, testing and mask-wearing as President Biden hopes the country can turn a corner after recording record-high infection rates in recent weeks.